Hackaday Links: November 22, 2015

There’s a new documentary series on Al Jazeera called Rebel Geeks that looks at the people who make the stuff everyone uses. The latest 25-minute part of the series is with [Massimo], chief of the arduino.cc camp. Upcoming episodes include Twitter co-creator [Evan Henshaw-Plath] and people in the Madrid government who are trying to build a direct democracy for the city on the Internet.

Despite being a WiFi device, the ESP8266 is surprisingly great at being an Internet of Thing. The only problem is the range. No worries; you can use the ESP as a WiFi repeater that will get you about 0.5km further for each additional repeater node. Power is of course required, but you can stuff everything inside a cell phone charger.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most common use for the Raspberry Pi is a vintage console emulator. Now there’s a Kickstarter for a dedicated tabletop Raspi emulation case that actually looks good.

Pogo pins are the go-to solution for putting firmware on hundreds of boards. These tiny spring-loaded pins give you a programming rig that’s easy to attach and detach without any soldering whatsoever. [Tom] needed to program a few dozen boards in a short amount of time, didn’t have any pogo pins, and didn’t want to solder a header to each board. The solution? Pull the pins out of a female header. It works in a pinch, but you probably want a better solution for a more permanent setup.

Half of building a PCB is getting parts and pinouts right. [Josef] is working on a tool to at least semi-automate the importing of pinout tables from datasheets into KiCad. This is a very, very hard problem, and if it’s half right half the time, that’s a tremendous accomplishment.

Last summer, [Voja] wrote something for the blog on building enclosures from FR4. Over on Hackaday.io he’s working on a project, and it’s time for that project to get an enclosure. The results are amazing and leave us wondering why we don’t see this technique more often.

KiCad Script Hack for Better Mechanical CAD Export

Open source EDA software KiCad has been gaining a lot of traction recently. CERN has been devoting resources to introduce many new advanced features such as differential pair tracks, push and shove routing and this plenty more scheduled in the pipeline. One important requirement of EDA packages is a seamless interface with mechanical CAD packages by exporting 3D models in industry common formats. This improves collaboration and allows further engineering designs such as enclosures and panels to be produced.

KiCad has had a 3D viewer available for quite a long time. But it uses the VRML mesh format (.wrl files) and there are compatibility issues which prevent it from rendering certain versions of VRML files. Moreover, the VRML mesh export is not particularly useful since it cannot be easily manipulated in mechanical CAD software. Recent versions of KiCad now offer IDFv3 format export – the Intermediate Data Format, a mechanical data exchange specification for the design and analysis of printed wiring assemblies. Taking advantage of this new feature, [Maurice] created KiCad StepUp – an export script that allows collaborative exchange between KiCad and FreeCAD.

A FreeCAD macro and a corresponding configuration file are added to the KiCad project folder. You start with .STEP files for all the components used in the KiCad design. The next step is to convert and save all .STEP files as .WRL format using FreeCAD. On the KiCad side, you use the .WRL files as usual. When you want to export the board, use the IDFv3 option in KiCad. When [Maurice]’s StepUp script is run (outside of KiCad) it replaces all instances of .WRL files with the equivalent .STEP versions and imports the board as well as the components in to FreeCAD as .STEP models. The result is a board and its populated components which can be manipulated as regular 3D objects.

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Developed on Hackaday – HaDge is back to the drawing board

A couple of days back, we wrote about the HACK – a prototyping platform designed by [Michele Perla] based on the Atmel SAM R21 MCU. It’s one of the new breed of devices consisting of an ARM Cortex-M0 MCU + IEEE 802.15.4 Wireless radio bundled together. This was exciting since we could pack a lot of punch in the HaDge hardware. We planned to use the same design later to power the HaDge. Building HACK would have allowed us to get it in the hands of the software team, while the hardware folks worked on the real HaDge layout.

The HACK design was ready for review and we asked around to verify the antenna layout, which was the part we were not too sure about.  We asked Atmel for help with verifying the layout. That’s when we had the facepalm moment. They asked us – “What about FCC certification?” Since we plan to build the badges in quantities of a few hundred at the very least, it’s obvious we cannot escape from FCC certification. A design based around the R21 is ruled out – the cost of obtaining approval is pretty high. This means we need to punt the R21 and instead use an off-the-shelf radio module which is already FCC certified. Sigh.

Now the good news. This is a setback in terms of time, and effort put in by [Michele]. But beyond that, we’re good to go back to the drawing board and start afresh. First off, we decided to revert back to the Atmel D21 as the main controller. It’s a fairly decent MCU, and there’s a fairly robust tool chain available that a lot of people are familiar with. For the Radio, we are looking at some of these available options :

The last one from Microchip looks quite promising. But we’re open for better and cheaper suggestions, so please chime in with your comments.

Developed on Hackaday – It’s a Badge. No, it’s the HaDge

Sometime back, we announced start of a new project under the “Developed on Hackaday” series – a Badge for the Hackaday community. At its core, this badge is a single node in an Internet of Badges. At every event this badge is deployed at, a Hackaday Sub-Etha mesh network will be created, and each badge will be able to transmit and receive messages from other badge wearers. There are plans for an Sub-Etha to Internet gateway, so even if badge wearers are on the other side of the world, they’re still connected through the HaDge network.

Things have been moving along quickly, so I thought of doing a quick round-up and share progress with the community. First off, it has a name. HaDge, as in HackaDay Badge. Our objectives up until now were to set up a team, name the project, set up repositories and lock down on a working bill of materials. Within a few weeks, we’ve got all of that tied down. The HaDge group chat channel has been super active, and everyone’s been pitching in with ideas and suggestions. A spreadsheet seemed like a good idea – it let everyone add in their suggestions regarding candidate parts, create a feature list and then talk about it on the channel.

We realized early on that building the hardware is going to take some time. So in the interim, we need a dev kit platform to get in to the hands of the software developers so they can start working on the smarts that will power the HaDge. [Michele Perla] had already built JACK (Just another Cortex kit) – a development kit powered by the Atmel SAM D21. It’s pretty bare bone with just the bare minimum of parts to make it work while keeping an eye on reliability. The microcontroller+radio on the HaDge is the Atmel SAM R21 – a close relative of the D21, so it made sense to respin the JACK and create HACK (Hackaday Cortex kit) – a development kit powered by the Atmel SAM R21 that is going to be used as the core of the HaDge. [Michele] has worked hard single-handedly to complete the design and it is now ready to go for PCB fabrication soon. We are just awaiting some feedback and review of the Antenna part of the design. None of us on the hardware team have a strong RF-fu so we don’t want to make an avoidable mistake. If you’d like to review and help vet the HACK design, grab the design files from the github repo and let us know.

Once HACK board layout is cleared for fabrication, we’ll work on building kits that can be sent out to the software folks. We will also be working on porting the HACK design in to KiCad and this is something I have already stared work on. I started by using the neat Eagle2KiCad conversion tool by [LachlanA]. It’s not perfect, but it does reduce the work involved in porting over from Eagle to Kicad. Once that is done, hardware development for the actual HaDge will see some progress – keep a watch on the project page.

Hackaday’s DC Meetup and Workshops

Washington DC has a vibrant hardware hacking community and it was out in force on Saturday night. We had over one hundred people through the door at Nova Labs in Reston, Virginia (DC metro area). This sleek and spacious hackerspace opened their doors for a Hackaday Meetup as part of a weekend packed full of activities.

The building that Nova Labs moved into not too long ago is a really well-suited area for a Hackerspace. The front half of the building includes a huge open space which has plenty of room for people to set up the hardware they wanted to show off. The back has a full woodshop, machine shop, and more, with classrooms and conference rooms in between.

Above are a set of hats with addressible LED strings wrapped around them which [ArsenioDev] brought along with him. Several members of the Wyolum team are involved with Nova Labs and they were showing off some LED matrix-based projects like the marquee cube and a 3-player reaction time game. And clacking away all night long is a vintage teletype machine that [Bob Coggeshall] fixed and connected to a Raspberry Pi.

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Saturday in Washington DC: Hackaday Meetup

If you’re in the DC area, clear your schedule this Saturday night. Hackaday is hosting a Meetup at Nova Labs starting at 6pm. All you need to do is let us know you’re planning to attend.

The Reston, Virginia hackerspace is minutes away from Dulles airport. If you haven’t stopped by the hackerspace since they moved this is a great chance to see the new location. Bring along any hardware you’re working on. You can give a lightning talk about it, or just show it off casually while enjoying some food and beverage. Several members of the Hackaday crew will be on hand: [Anool Mahidharia] will be in town presenting a weekend-long workshop on PCB design using KiCAD. [Mike], [Brian], and [Sophi] will join him for the meetup on Saturday evening. For more details on what is going down that weekend take a look at the original announcement post. See you soon!

Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Washington DC

Join us for a Meetup on Saturday, September 12th near Washington DC. The Hackaday Crew is headed out to the DC area a week from Saturday and we want to hang out with you. We’ll be hosting a meetup at Nova Labs hackerspace in Reston, Virgina which is on the Northwest side of DC.

We’ll get things rolling at 6pm on Saturday, September 12. The event includes a few lightning talks, some food and drink, and a lot of socializing. This is free to all but you do need to RSVP to let us know you’re coming. We want you to bring a hack to show off. We love to see what people are working on no matter the level of complexity or stage of completion.

Breakout board laid out in KiCAD
Breakout board laid out in KiCAD

This all started when [Anool Mahidharia] mentioned that he’d be at Nova Labs on September 11-13 to lead a KiCAD PCB design workshop. This 2.5 day boot-camp starts with installing the Open Source EDA software on your laptop and ends when you have a completed PCB design ready to be submitted to a board fab. There is a charge for the workshop and attendance is limited so if you’re interested in it you should sign up now. Our events page is a good collection of information on both events as well as directions to get to Nova Labs.

The workshop is being organized by our friend [Bob Coggeshall] who we first met (and interviewed about his work on the Linux ‘sudo’ command) back in 2014 at Bay Area Maker Faire. Since then, [Brian Benchoff] swung by and visited [Bob] to talk about his company Small Batch Assembly and to tour Nova Labs. He will be conducting his own surface mount soldering workshop, will speak about Design For Manufacturing, and will show his Pick and Place machine during the weekend.

It will be fun to visit with [Bob] and to meet everyone who can make it to the Saturday evening meetup. So far  [Mike Szczys], [Brian Benchoff], and [Sophi Kravitz] are all planning to be there. [Anool Mahidharia] will of course be there since he’s leading the workshop. The following weekend [Anool] and [Brian] will both be headed to Philadelphia for the 2015 Open Hardware Summit for which Hackaday is a proud sponsor. [Matt Berggren] and [Amber Cunningham] will both be at OSH as well, talking all things Tindie.